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Council's opts to postpone hiring Community Development Coordinator

Union Leader Correspondent

May 02. 2014 9:38PM

DERRY — As much as Derry needs economic development, there are other priorities that must come first, the Town Council recently decided.

The council has voted to not hire a community development coordinator to lead an economic revitalization effort in town. In a 4-3 vote Tuesday night, the council opted to zero out the $112,000 item from the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

Derry’s economic development has remained stagnant in recent years. In addition, Derry has a high tax rate and the town’s ratio of commercial/industrial property valuation is lower than comparable communities in the area, according to figures recently cited by acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau.

A community development coordinator would work to help recruit businesses to town that would in turn create more local jobs and expand the commercial tax base, according to officials.It would cost approximately $112,000 per year in salary and benefits to add a community development coordinator, Budreau said.

But councilors voting to zero out the budget item said it is better to wait until a new town administrator can be brought aboard before moving forward with hiring a coordinator. It’s also better from a financial standpoint to not include the funds in next year’s budget said Councilor David Fischer, who made a motion to zero out the item.

“Do I understand the need for economic development, yes,’’ Fischer said. “Do I think one person is going to make a difference at this point in time, absolutely not.”

The councilors seemed to agree that they should wait until a new administrator can be hired to fill the vacancy left by former Town Administrator John Anderson. Councilors have expedited a plan to hire the next administrator and could have someone in place as early as July 1.

But some other local officials didn’t agree with the council’s decision to delay hiring a community development coordinator. Bringing in a coordinator now could help the town as well as ease the transition for the next administrator, said Stacey Bruzzese, executive director of the Greater Derry-Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

“I think that one is not necessarily tied to the other,” Bruzzese said. “I think that it would be totally appropriate to hire an economic development professional now with the understanding that that person would be one of the people to get a new town administrator acclimated to their position and to the community at large.”

While the council has decided to delay funding the position for now, some local business owners said a community development coordinator could work with them and become a valuable resource.

Small business owners sometimes have concerns about their operations but don’t always know who to turn to in town for help, said Neelima Gogumalla, who founded Creative Chef Kitchens.

“From my perspective, I would like to have a community development person we can talk to and we can go and air our grievances,” Gogumalla said. “Someone who is a community development coordinator would be able to channel our concerns as a small business to the right department, to the right organization, to work with us.”

Gogumalla runs a commercial rental kitchen that helps entrepreneurs who are just starting out in the food and restaurant industry.

A community development coordinator could also help spark economic development by working to bring in new businesses to Derry, Gogumalla said, while maintaining relationships with existing businesses.

“Sometimes with economic development, they concentrate on working with bringing new business to town and they tend to forget existing businesses,” she said. “And I hope that doesn’t happen because we are already here.”

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